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was the gift of God, could ever have dignified with the name of a supposition.
“ Unless, therefore, we are prepared to admit the most glaring dishculties and absurdities, we are driven to the conclusion, that language, in its signs as well as in its sounds, was the gift of God to Adam, gift which even the glimpses we can now obtain of it, prove to have been worthy of the source from which it came. It bears the marks of having been fitted to convey to man, at the first, the clearest conceptions of the powers, properties, laws, and operations, by which the Former of all things ordained that the universe should be sustained; to enable him, from them, metaphorically to express the passions, emotions, and feelings of his own mind and affections; and, from them, to understand, so far as finite capacity could do, the spiritual operations of God's greater creation, of which the visible universe was a figure. It appears, also, to have possessed, in a most remarkable manner, the property of giving immutability to the ideas or opinions expressed by it, so far, at least, as to prevent a change of opinion without a change of language ; and it was thus the proper, the divine vehicle, for
expressing and perpetuating the truth of God: and the names or nouns formed of its elements seemed most miraculously framed for rendering every object, animate or inanimate, to which they were applied, the bearer of some figurative or prophetic lesson.
* That language, darkened and disfigured, alas! by rabbinical puerilities, and heathen attempts to twist it to the rules of more worldly tongues, we still have in our hands : it still retains traces of its divine origin, sufficiently plain to commend itself to the understanding of every one who is bold enough to refuse to look at divine truths through the mists of paganism, or to estimate revelation by the criteria of philosophy.”—Morrison's Religious History of Man, p. 81.
Bishop Cumberland, having given several reasons for his opinion, which do not admit of being separated from their connection, says: “I believe, as Pliny hints, Mercury, or Thoth, to be rather a restorer of learning in Egypt and Canaan after the flood, than its first inventor; though Sanchoniatho, for the credit of his own and the Egyptian nation and religion, and on the authority of Mercury's scribes, would have us believe him the first author, simply, or without the limitation which I suggest."-Cumberland, Sanchoniathon's Phenician History, p. 227.
The Rev. Thomas Hartwell Horne, D. D., has entered into an elaborate investigation of the origin of writing. From his observations the following passages are extracted: “Were letters of human invention ? Or was the knowledge of letters immediately communicated to man by the supreme Being ? Almost every writer, Mr. Astle particularly, has advocated the former opinion, and has urged it with much ingenuity;
but when the subsequent hints are attentively considered, the author conceives that the latter sentiment will be found most consistent with reason and with probability."
Having disproved the barbarism imputed to the first race of mankind, our author proceeds : “Further : the longevity of the antediluvians was favorable to their improvement in any arts which their ingenuity had invented; accordingly we learn, that in the seventh generation they had made themselves acquainted with music, and the management of metals ; and were, in the time of Noah, so far skilled in the science of practical navigation as to be able to build an ark.
“If, therefore, it was within the reach of human capacity to work out the invention of alphabetical writing, the antediluvians were as likely to make the discovery as any of their postdiluvian posterity.
“From these considerations, then, it is highly probable that the use of letters was known before the flood.
“Let us now consider the circumstances in which we find mankind after they left the ark. Moses informs us, that the whole earth was of one language and one speech;' a manner of speaking which he would not have used before men had multiplied to a very
considerable number. And they, that is, the whole race of mankind, came to the land of Shinar, and thence were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth. Gen.' xi, 1–9. That we may be the better satisfied of this fact, the account is repeated, with the addition of this express circumstance, that it was the language of all the earth which was then confounded. From this account of Moses, it is evident that all mankind kept together till the confusion at Babel, when they separated, or from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth :' the sons of Japheth, north-westwardly, through Mesopotamia and Syria, to people Europe and its adjacent islands; the sons of Shem, to countries on the east; while Ham, with his descendants, peopled the neighboring countries, together with Palestine, Egypt, and the rest of Africa.
“Now, in the course of such a dispersion as this, a state of barbarism may he met with : all the arts and accomplishments of civilization would be neglected, and soon lost, among men whose time and labor were wholly occupied with providing the immediate necessaries of life; and were we to suppose a people in comfortable circumstances to be acquainted with letters, and to be reduced to a state of difficulty and necessity like that just mentioned, their letters would soon be forgotten, and their language degenerate into what may properly be called “a jargon.' This was the case of the emigrants from Shinar, and would be most remarkably so with those who should be removed to the most distant settlements: accordingly those who, by repeated removals, wandered to Europe by one way, and to India by another, lost the use and knowledge of
letters entirely. Those who continued in or near Shinar, free from the solicitudes and distractions attending a removal, probably retained the knowledge and use of them in their perfection : while such as, though obliged to move, did not go so far, lost their knowledge of letters in part only; still retaining enough of them to be a foundation, both of reviving them among themselves, and teaching them to others.
· As the removal to Canaan was not a great one, the people who went thither would probably remember enough of letters to be able to revive them soon after they had made themselves easy in their settlements; and being, by their situation, led to the practice of navigation and commerce, they would carry the knowledge of letters to those nations who had lost them, and thus be accounted their inventors. Agreeably to which Quintus Curtius, Lucan, Hesychius, and Porphyry, ascribe the invention of letters to the Phenicians.
The progenitors of Abraham were among those who staid in or near the land of Shinar, and would probably retain much of the language spoken before the dispersion; and, as they did not leave Ur, their native settlement in that country, until Abraham was seventy-five years old, and then removed not far, they would not be likely to lose or change their language, or forget the use of letters, on the supposition that they had been acquainted with them.
" The result, then, of the preceding observations may thus be briefly stated. Tradition speaks most strongly for the use of letters first known and practiced in those parts from whence the dispersion of mankind was made. Hence it is reasonable to presume,
"1. That letters were known before the dispersion.
"2. That (as already intimated) they were known even before the deluge.
"3. That the knowledge of language and of letters was communicated by the almighty Creator to man.”—Introduction to Bibliography, pp. 77-83.
Whiston, the translator of Josephus, gives his judgment on the origin of writing, in a note on a passage in which the Jewish historian, referring to the generations from Adam to Noah, observes : “Those who then lived having noted down, with great accuracy, both the births and deaths of illustrious men," &c. On this passage, the remark of the translator is : "Josephus here takes notice, that these ancient generations were first set down by those that then lived, and from them were transmitted down to posterity; which I suppose to be the true account of the matter: for there is no reason to imagine that men were not taught to read and write soon after they were taught to speak, and perhaps all by the Messiah himself."-Antiq., lib. i, cap. iii, sec. 3. Note.
The Rev. James Esdaile, in speaking of the progress of the arts before
the flood, says: “It is absurd to suppose that the antediluvians were unacquainted with letters; at any rate, we have never heard of any society which had made such progress in the arts as the antediluvians certainly did, without being acquainted with the use of letters.”—Edin. Enc., article Antediluvian.
The learned author of a very recent work on ancient Egypt, in a chapter full of important information on this subject, has the following remarks:
“I only at present observe, that the Hebrew alphabet is demonstrably older than the giving of the law, and that I think there are good grounds for believing it to have been ab origine ; and in this sense do I adopt the assertion of Pliny: Literas semper arbitror Assyrias fuisse. (vii, 57.)
" The facts and instances which I have adduced ought to have made men very slow in conceding that any one alphabet was derived from pictorial representations; how much more so to take for granted, as men commonly do, that all alphabets have had such derivations! And when they cannot by any ingenuity twist rectangular letters into animal forms, they will rather resort to arrow-heads, or nail-heads, or sprigs of trees, or notched sticks, than to a pre-existent alphabet, with which a little historical research would indisputably furnish them.”—Egyptian History from Monuments still in Existence, pp. 46, 47.
The Rev. Edward Davies, in his Celtic Researches, (pp. 34, 45,) observes :
“ There can be little doubt that the primitive ages possessed some means, besides oral tradition, of recording and perpetuating their several branches of knowledge; but respecting the nature of these means we are left somewhat in the dark. It is universally allowed that no human device could have answered this purpose better than alphabetical writing. Were the early ages acquainted with an alphabet ? This has been a great question. Among some ancient and modern nations we find picture writing, hieroglyphical representations, or else arbitrary signs of ideas, employed as the general means of preserving memorials. But whether
any of these are the remains of primitive art, or the resources of those societies which had forgotten the accomplishments of their forefathers, is another question. Our lower mechanics and laborers, who have never been taught to write, use a variety of marks and figures to record their little transactions ; and if one of these families were removed to a sequestered island, and secluded from other society, this would become their established mode of writing, though they were descended from a people who had the use of an alphabet.
“It is an indisputable fact, that books or memorials in writing, and consequently reading, were things well understood before the giving of the law. The sacred tables certainly consisted of alphabetical writing;
and the preceding inscriptions were undoubtedly of the same kind, and in the same characters.
" It may be demanded, “How happens it, if the art of writing was really understood in the primitive ages, that Moses has not recorded the names of its inventors among other antediluvian instructors ?' To this it may be answered, that the Mosaic history of the antediluvians is a mere epitome. The historian records only the inventions of one family, that of Cain. His catalogue must have omitted many great arts which the antediluvians possessed. Who was the first carpenter, or the first weaver? The design of Moses seems to have been, not so much to mark the antiquity of the arts known in his time, as to preserve a memorial of eminent persons; more particularly in that family which was now wholly cut off from the face of the earth.
“ History furnishes no instance of an exact chronology having been preserved for a series of ages by any people who were wholly illiterate. Relative dates, and the enumeration of months and days, would soon become unmanageable in oral tradition.
"The enumeration of circumstances in the history of the deluge, clearly points out the early use of letters, or of something equivalent to letters. Here we have upon record the particular month, and the day of the month, on which the rain began, the number of days it continued, the period during which the earth was covered, the day on which the ark first rested, on which the tops of the mountains were first seen, on which the face of the ground was first observed to be dry, and on which Noah and his family descended from the ark.
Here, again, Moses records not the phenomena of the deluge as simple facts, but he records them as they had been seen and observed by Noah. He does not tell us upon what day the mountains first emerged from the waters, but upon what day their tops are seen.
“If to all these presumptive arguments of the high antiquity of writing, we add, that the most ancient nations, those that were first regularly settled, and were most tenacious of their primitive customs and institutions, are found to have possessed the art of alphabetical writing; and that several of those societies regarded letters as coeval with the nation itself, if not with the human race; we shall have abundant reason to conclude that letters were certainly known to mankind before the separation of families, and very probably before the deluge.”
It has been thought best to give the arguments and opinions of the authors cited, in their own words, in preference to digesting the substance of the whole into one continued line of argumentation ; although such a course may have necessarily led sometimes to a repetition of the same observation, and, at others, to some little discordance of sentiment on minor points. This plan has, however, presented the arguments in